Classical Music

Houston Chamber Choir's 'Once Upon A Time' Delivers Fairytale Ending

The Houston Chamber Choir's 'Once Upon A Time' promises a fairytale ending.
The Houston Chamber Choir's 'Once Upon A Time' promises a fairytale ending. Photo by Jeff Grass Photography
It's going to be a trip to childhood fantasies this weekend when the Houston Chamber Choir presents Once Upon A Time. The concert inspiration includes fairy tales and nursery rhymes that will transport people of all ages to a time of delight and enchantment. The performance takes place at South Main Baptist Church this Saturday at 7:30 p.m., and joining the Grammy Award-winning choir as a narrator is none other than KPRC's Courtney Zavala.

Once Upon a Time was created by Grammy-nominated Skylark in collaboration with storyteller Sara Walker and young American composer Benedict Sheehan. Skylark, based in Boston, is one of the leading chamber choir ensembles in the country. Houston Chamber Choir's Founder Bob Simpson commented about this concert and the programming as the perfect fairytale ending to it's 2021-22 season.

"We all love these stories. We have grown up with that fascination of having a lifetime worth of memories of all of the stories that we were told as children. Those memories will come flooding back as the Houston Chamber Choir sings this concert. The young and young at heart will enjoy these stories," he said.

Notable songs on the setlist include John Rutter's "Five Childhood Lyrics" that includes the fortune telling nursery rhyme forecasting the life of five children born on days of the week. Edward Lear's "Owl and the Pussycat," "Sing A Song Of Six Pence, A Pocketful Of Rye," and Scottish composer Sir James MacMillan's "The Gallant Weaver" also are included.

The crown jewel performance of the evening will be a magical retelling of “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” by the Brothers Grimm.

The origin stories of some of the fairytales, such as Snow White, are quite disturbing. In the Brothers Grimm version, we experience her mother's awkward decision to give her daughter the titular name, her mother's death during Snow White's birth, Snow White's rearing under the murderous Evil Queen, the cold-blooded Huntsman's attempt to carve out her liver and lungs as proof of Snow White's demise and so that the Evil Queen can eat them, the Evil Queen's comeuppance where she is fitted in red hot iron shoes and literally dances until she dies, and...well...there's more, but that's enough to drive the point home of just how dark the original story is.

Most people, however, are familiar only with the Disney movie, and Walt Disney wasn't going to put any of that on film. The same goes for this weekend's retelling of the story.

"We're going to be looking for those moments when the storyline is brighter and gives us a greater sense of happiness. This is a happy ending to a happy season, and it fits into the overall season theme 'Sing Out The New Day.' We're finishing with the bright, sunshine-y stories of innocence in childhood," Simpson said.
click to enlarge The Houston Chamber Choir's 'Once Upon A Time' is a thrill for the young and the young at heart. - PHOTO BY JEFF GRASS PHOTOGRAPHY
The Houston Chamber Choir's 'Once Upon A Time' is a thrill for the young and the young at heart.
Photo by Jeff Grass Photography
The interplay between the narrator and the chorus looks to be an interesting aspect of this particular performance — almost like a game of cat and mouse.

"It starts 'Once upon a time...,' and then it tells a certain amount of the story. As the narration concludes, the choir starts to sing underneath it. That transitions us from the spoken text into the musical portion, so it is like a movie soundtrack," Simpson said. "Eventually, the narration starts again and tells a little more of the story, and then the choir sings another piece that amplifies what's just been spoken. It's an interweaving of spoken and sung texts that move the storyline along."

One thing is guaranteed: people of all ages will look find a portion of the concert that reignites the youthful wonderment of the fairytales we've all come to know and love.

Houston Chamber Choir presents Once Upon A Time 7:30 p.m. Saturday at South Main Baptist Church, 4100 Main. The Houston Chamber Choir Digital Stage Virtual Release is scheduled for 2 p.m. Sunday, June 5. For more information, visit houstonchamberchoir.org. $10 - $25.
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Sam Byrd is a freelance contributor to the Houston Press who loves to take in all of Houston’s sights, sounds, food and fun. He also loves helping others to discover Houston’s rich culture.
Contact: Sam Byrd